2004 Isuzu Rodeo SUV

In the summer of 2004, I knew the days of depending on my venerable 1988 Isuzu LS Pickup were numbered. The truck was in the shop on a regular basis now for problems that were mostly a result of being 15 years old with about 200,000 miles. I decided to at least look at new trucks.

As a satisfied two-Isuzu-truck owner I could not imagine owning anything other than another Isuzu truck. I quickly learned that Isuzu had stopped making pickups and only offered SUVs. In considering my budget and the available SUV models, I opted to consider a six-cylinder Rodeo. I owned a trailer-mounted boat by now and wanted something a little more powerful that a four-cylinder to pull it with. I also liked the looks and features of the higher-end 3.5 liter Rodeo.

However, I was not willing to buy a Rodeo from the local Isuzu dealer. This would be the same dealer than several years earlier refused to service my Pickup, on reason they would not work on any vehicle more than ten years old. My attitude may not have been fair to the sales people, but that was just the way it was.

I started checking out the new car sales on E-Bay, and quickly learned that I could get a much better deal on a new Rodeo at a dealer outside the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, but still close enough to get to. The internet option became my first choice for my planned new vehicle.

One complication was that I was sort of married now. I had gone to China the previous October and married Winnie, but she was still in China waiting for her visa. I was supporting her so she could go to English classes full time and between supporting her, my normal expenses, and still paying down the expenses from my ex-wife, my budget was pretty tight. I decided to hold off on a new Rodeo until Winnie arrived in the U.S.

When my pickup broke down while fleeing Hurricane Ivan in mid-September, I decided the buying decision had been made for me. While depending on neighbors to get me around while my truck was in Brewton, Alabama being repaired, I went back on E-Bay Motors. I was in daily contact with Winnie via Yahoo IM, so I told her what I was doing. I located an Isuzu dealer in Orlando, Florida, that was offering great deals on 2004 models. I contacted the salesman, got an e-mail list of available Rodeos, and discussed the color options with Winnie. We settled on a red metal-flake with beige interior model, truly beautiful in the e-mailed photos.

I locked in our choice, prearranged a loan with my local credit union, and on a Friday evening, October 1, my neighbor drove me to the Gulfport Airport so I could get my one-way rental car to Orlando. I left early the next morning and arrived in Orlando about 2:30 PM. The salesman was there waiting for me.

We checked out my selected Rodeo, all prepped and waiting for me. I took it for a test drive with 14 miles on the odometer, agreed it was a sweet machine, and we did the paperwork. Then the salesman followed me out to the airport to drop off my rental car. On the way back to the dealership we stopped for coffee, and I managed to dump half a cup on the upholstery. The salesman arranged for an emergency cleaning before I left for home.

I stopped in Daytona Beach, Florida that evening, and the next morning took a longer scenic route back home. I arrived about 6:00 PM Sunday evening with my helpful neighbor anxiously waiting to check out my new toy. By the time I returned home I already had several hundred miles on the Rodeo.

The Rodeo was a real joy to drive, but for the first several months I mostly used my Pickup for daily commuting. I did take a long drive to Mom’s house in New York that Christmas. By this time I was convinced that the Rodeo was by far the most comfortable vehicle I’d ever owned.

Winnie finally arrived from China on July 15, 2005. I met her, along with most of my family, in Los Angeles International Airport. I flew out of New Orleans Airport and used the Rodeo to get there, leaving it in long-term parking. Winnie saw our Rodeo for the first time when we returned to New Orleans on the evening of Monday, July 18.

Over the next few weeks we settled in together and on Saturday August 6 we went out sight-seeing the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Driving along a narrow four lane road with heavy traffic, I looked away from the road for a moment and turned back in just not-quite-enough time to slam the brakes and stop our Rodeo before hitting a van in front of us.

I did swerve enough to hit on our left-front corner, no one was injured, and we didn’t hit hard enough to cause the airbags to deploy. But the damage to my beautiful 10 month old SUV still broke my heart. The left front fender was pushed up against the tire so I couldn’t even drive home. The police came and took reports; I called a tow truck and then my cousin living nearby to come get us. Even though I insisted I wasn’t hurt my cousin took us to the nearest emergency room where I spent several hours waiting for a doctor to tell us that in fact, neither Winnie nor I were hurt. For her part, Winnie took having an accident two weeks after arriving in the U.S. in the same unflappable way she handled everything else.

For the next several weeks we used my Pickup as main transportation while waiting for the Rodeo to be repaired. On Thursday, August 25, I called the body shop located in Gulfport, Mississippi, and was assured that there was only one more part they were waiting on, and I should expect to have my Rodeo back that following Monday. That following Monday turned out to be the day Hurricane Katrina wiped out most of the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast.

The Saturday before the storm, when we needed to make our decision to evacuate, my main concern was attempting to flee in the same truck that had broken down on me the year prior, attempting to flee a hurricane. For that reason and others, I opted for Winnie and I to ride the storm out at a neighbor’s house.

During the storm my pickup was submerged up to the top of the dashboard, ruining every electrical component and totaling the truck. As I learned the extent of damages to the Coast, I expected that the Gulfport body shop where my Rodeo was being repaired was probably gone, or at least had been flooded, and concluded my Rodeo was also a Katrina casualty. I subsequently filed insurance claims against both the pickup and the Rodeo. I explained that I really didn’t know the condition of the Rodeo other than it was still in the shop. Without phones or transportation, I had no way of even knowing whether it had survived.

Two weeks later I received a rather grumpy call from my insurance adjuster demanding to know why I filed a claim on my Rodeo. He informed me that my Rodeo was in the Body Shop now waiting over two weeks for someone to claim it. With the help of neighbors, I immediately drove over to the shop. Sure enough; the immediate area around the body shop was about the only part of Gulfport spared any significant damage. My Rodeo was inside the concrete-block building during the storm and hadn’t even been rained on. It was the first bit of good news I’d had in over three very long weeks.

I still don’t know whether I would have opted to evacuate if we had the Rodeo available. It would have been a close call either way. I do know that if we had stayed with the Rodeo and Pickup both at home both would have been lost to the storm. I made that point to my insurance company several times, for whatever good it may have done my later insurance rates.

Over the next several months the Rodeo more than earned her keep providing reliable transportation, pulling our utility trailer full of building materials and getting my vending route going again. In December Winnie and I took a drive up to New York to Mom’s house, her first time meeting Mom. We spent the spring still rebuilding our house and in early Spring I got the Rodeo used to pulling a boat.

Winnie learned to drive in this SUV during the summer. We had attempted to gain her learner’s permit the Friday before Katrina swept through, but neglected to bring all the needed paperwork with us to the DMV. We didn’t have the chance to try again until the following June. Once she had her permit, Winnie insisted on doing some driving every evening. At first we stayed in the local mall parking lot, then out on smaller roads, then the freeway. There were a few heart-stopping moments for me, tempered by the knowledge that we’d already been in one accident with the Rodeo, so another accident wouldn’t be anything new and original. Winnie passed her road test in early September, in the Rodeo, on her first try.

That summer we decided to move away from the Gulf Coast. I subsequently gained a job outside of Washington, D.C. and we prepped for a Do-It-Yourself move. To get ourselves moved we made two trips between our Mississippi house and suburbs of Washington a week apart.

Our first trip was a house-hunting expedition, and I brought my boat up at the same time. On this trip the cruise control really came in handy. I was reassured by factory Isuzu mechanics that there should be no mechanical problems with pulling my boat up to Washington, but recommended I keep the speed under 60. So, once out on the open highway I set the cruise control to 57 MPH. We cruised, in the slow lane, all the way up to Washington pulling the boat with no problems. I ran high-test gas and got lousy mileage, but our Rodeo did well. We drove back at (my) normal highway speeds.

On our second and final trip we pulled our utility trailer loaded up with tools and books. It wasn’t nearly as heavy as the boat, but still heavy enough that once again I used the cruise control to keep us at a slow safe speed.

The Rodeo became our primary moving van a few months later when transferring from our temporary apartment to our new house in a Virginia Suburb. This past summer I once again got the SUV used to pulling my boat to the nearby boat ramp on a near weekly basis. Once again, she took the work in stride.

Once I got used to driving and commuting in the Washington metro area the Rodeo became my commuter vehicle. For a short while I used the 2000 VW Beetle as a commuter car, but since I always had other riders (either a car pool or sluggers) it wasn’t so practical. Once Winnie learned driving a stick shift the VW became her car and I commuted in the Rodeo. in 2009, when we purchased the Nissan Versa, Winnie had me use the Versa since it had better mileage and she again drove the Rodeo.

For the next couple of years we mostly used the Rodeo for Winnie’s commute, pulling the boat or utility trailer on local runs, and for my weekend driving when Winnie was working and using her Versa. About once each year we’d take a longer drive to mom’s house or to visit relatives in Rhode Island. Winnie’s commute was 10 miles round-trip each day, so for the next several years the Rodeo became a low-mileage vehicle. The Rodeo only turned 100,000 miles in early 2013.

Even with keeping the mileage low, we still had problems I didn’t expect from an Isuzu. For instance; the alternator failed in 2009, in northern Pennsylvania on a Saturday after Christmas while driving back from Mom’s house (at about 80,000 miles). The engine quit from a dead battery about ten miles from the nearest exit ramp in an area with marginal cell phone reception. We finally contacted AAA, got towed into a repair shop and had to leave the Rodeo there for several days while we took the Amtrak back home, necessitating a second trip to Pennsylvania to bring the Rodeo home.

This SUV was accident-prone, which I mean in the worse possible way. I had my first accident just nine months after purchasing it (described above) which did have the perverse effect of saving the Rodeo from hurricane Katrina. But the following year, about six months after Katrina, I was driving along Highway 90 and passed a road crew cutting grass. Just as I passed the mower kicked out a fist-sized chunk of concrete which struck my roof, putting a dent and long crease the entire length and scraping off paint right down to the bare metal. I’m certain that had that rock hit my windshield it would have gone right through.

I did take a windshield rock hit a few months later, which cracked the windshield. I had the windshield repaired just before Winnie took her road test, which was a couple of months before moving to Virginia. A few months after moving north, the windshield was smashed  as an apparent deliberate act of vandalism while the Rodeo was parked in a commuter lot. I had the windshield repaired again. Six months later we took another rock hit and cracked the windshield, again. We had to replace the windshield again in order to pass a safety inspection.

All went well for several years, until April 1, 2009. I was driving in a downtown area near where we lived, crossing an intersection. On the opposite side of the intersection the road was two lanes and there was a left turn-off into a parking lot. A car was turning into the lot with three cars backed up in front of me. As I was sitting there, someone in a huge pickup with wide custom fenders decided to pass us. The driver drove halfway on the sidewalk to get around but misjudged his distance and sideswiped me on my passenger side, and kept going. I managed to get pass the line of cars and chased the pickup for about a mile when the driver pulled into his apartment parking lot. I did get his insurance information and had the Rodeo repaired again. Repairs included a new front passenger-side door, new passenger-side front fender (the left fender had been previously replaced) and body-work all down the rear door and rear fender. 

Just a few months after getting the Rodeo back I managed to put a dent into the rear cargo door pulling a trailer loaded with long material that extended out the front of the trailer. I was too tired to make another insurance claim and deal with body shops so I just lived with the dent.

Another issue was that 2004 was the last year Isuzu manufactured light trucks and passenger cars.  Isuzu dealerships and authorized repair centers gradually closed as inventory was sold and warranties no longer required servicing. By 2010 there was only one dealership in Northern Virginia where I could obtain factory-parts such as replacement wireless keys. I was fortunate to find an excellent locally-owned foreign car repair shop near my home to do repairs.

The lack of parts gradually became more of an issue to the point that in 2013, when I needed to replace a section of rusted out exhaust pipe my local repair shop spent two days locating the parts they needed – from a distributor in southern Maryland. One fog lamp quit working and I was unable to locate a replacement fog lamp for under $200. I ended up pulling both fog lamps off so I could pass my annual safety inspection.

In March 2013 Winnie was driving the Rodeo home after dropping me off at the commuter lot, hit a patch of ice, and slid off the road into a sign post. She wasn’t going fast, but hit the post hard enough to crack the right front bumper. We just took the Rodeo to a local body shop and had them replace and repair, no insurance claim. As part of the repairs I had the shop replace the fog lamps. They were able to find replacements (presumably junk-yard parts) for much less than the price of new ones. I also had the hood repainted as the clear coat finish was beginning to peel off and looked terrible.

From March to August 2013 the Rodeo was again our only car, due to totaling Winnie’s 2009 Nissan Versa in an auto accident.

By the end of 2013, the Rodeo was showing her age, and not gracefully. We were having periodic electrical component failures both major and minor that was irritating. About every year we had an electrical sensor failure which kept our repair shop in business. Shortly after losing the fog lamps the rear window wiper blade quit working which was another irritant. Replacing it meant taking apart the tailgate and I didn’t care to spend that much on repairs on something I could live without.

In April 2014 I had yet another accident with the Rodeo, again not my fault. I was sitting at a stoplight just a few miles from home after a long day’s work, and another person ran into the back of the Rodeo at somewhere around 25MPH. I suspect the man was texting and not paying attention to the traffic. He hit me hard enough to destroy my solid class-three towing hitch and rear bumper. The insurance adjuster felt that the towing hitch saved the Rodeo from having the entire rear section destroyed.

This time, considering the age of the Rodeo, I used the body shop that previously repaired our front bumper instead of the dealership shop the insurance company wanted me to use. Our local body shop did a decent job, and in less time than the dealership shop would have taken. I had the body shop repair the dent in the rear tail gate and replace the rear windshield wiper as part of the total repair.

Less than three months later I was again rear-ended in an intersection while stopped. This time, the car that hit me wasn’t going fast, and it was an import sports car with a really light-duty bumper that received all the damage. I saw no damages to the Rodeo, but took the other driver’s insurance information just in case I saw damages later.

I made almost monthly trips up to mom’s house in upstate New York over that spring and summer as we moved mom out of her house and down to Tennessee. On several trips I pulled the utility trailer, needed to haul household property someplace.

Then between October to November 2014 I had to replace the alternator three times. The local repair shop was honest about not charging for warranty work, and finally installed a high-end alternator that gave no more problems. But each time when the alternator failed the only fault indication I had was my lights going dim as the battery ran down. Each time the alternator failed I ended up being towed to the shop.

In April 2015 I took a long drive to Rhode Island, towing my utility trailer, and hauled home a load of equipment my Uncle had given me. This would be the last really long drive I took with the Rodeo.

In September 2015 the Rodeo gave a transmission warning light indication which turned out to be a failed electrical switch on the transmission. Due to the complete lack of  dealership support, the mechanics were not able to obtain the specialized replacement part. I ended up going on-line, locating and purchasing the part (for several hundred dollars), and delivering it to the mechanic to install. I was just happy I found the correct part on the first try.

By October, 2015, Winnie and I had been talking about replacing the Rodeo for over a year. We’d actually gone looking at new vehicles several times but I really wasn’t ready to buy a new vehicle. I also didn’t know what I’d find to replace the Rodeo, and didn’t want to spend the money it would cost for a vehicle  with comparable features.

Finally, in November my decision was pretty much made for me. I was on a business trip in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, using my Rodeo, when it suddenly would not start. I had it towed to a local service station and rode between my hotel and work site with a colleague while the Rodeo was being repaired. The repair shop owner was an honest person and repaired the Rodeo for a very fair price (rebuilt alternator and cleaned up the electrical grounds), but now I knew I could no longer rely on it. It was time to sell and move on.

Winnie and I purchased a new 2015 Jeep Cherokee “Latitude” several weeks later during a “Black Friday” car sale, and I placed an ad on Craig’s List the next day for the Rodeo. We opted for private sales as I knew that with three reported accidents on an eleven year old car, that no longer had a dealership support network,  a dealer wasn’t going to give us much if anything, on a trade-in.

It took about ten days to sell. After several people came by to look and test drive, I sold the Rodeo to a Lebanese couple as the wife’s commuting car. As the new buyer drove off, I felt a twinge of regret knowing that it was the first time in 38 years I didn’t own an Isuzu.

 

Ron Charest

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